I Lost Control and Then I Found Something Better

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Check out this awesome and hysterical blog from Monthly Guest Blogger Jessica Latshaw about the benefits of losing control!

I Lost Control and Then I Found Something Better

I think good things happen not only when we lose control (because, really, when do we ever have total control?), but the best things happen when we lose our dearly held–albeit delusional–idea of our control over anything other than what exists between the crown of our heads and the soles of our feet.
How’s that for a first sentence? If it’s not long enough for you, I can work on it.

april25babies_ellafitzgeraldSomebody told me a story about Ella Fitzgerald. I cannot tell you if this is entirely true, because I was not there, but this is what I heard. When Ella went to the studio to record, her producer made her sing a song over and over again-to the point of exhaustion, even. It wasn’t until then that someone would finally hit record. The truth comes out when you’re too tired to pretend anymore. And there’s nothing so interesting as the raw, unguarded truth, was the point of the story, I believe.
(Tell that to someone who is belting, and they may very well prefer clarity of tone and pitch over interesting, but still.)

I work for a company called Fly Wheel Sports, teaching indoor stadium cycling to people who have big goals and the motivation to match. Oftentimes clients will tell me they perform better when they are exhausted and walk into a class with not nearly as much expectation on themselves because of it. They are shocked. But I wonder if it has something to do with the pressure being off and a sense of control being lost. I wonder if better things happen as a result of those two factors.

images-9One of my best auditions came out of some of the worst circumstances. First of all, I was late. Not just I-am-not-there-to-sit-in-a-split-in-the-holding-room-with-headphones-on-an-hour-before-they-call-me late. I mean, I literally was not there when the audition started. The casting director called me, “Where are you?” she asked, concerned.
“On the train–it’s delayed and I will be there as soon as humanly possible.”
I had come to the conclusion that there was nothing I could do about the train being delayed and the fact that I was still on the other side of the Lincoln Tunnel while my competitors were dancing for the director I wanted to hire me.

Finally, I arrived. I heard the music, but I couldn’t help it–I HAD to go to the bathroom. Yep, my belly was not feeling so well and it chose that moment to decide to move things around inside.

I was already late–what’s a little bit later? I decided.

Then I got my period.
(I am sorry, but that is a part of this story, and to leave it out would be an injustice to the art of story telling.)

So I did what was necessary (the art of story telling sometimes demands certain details be left out, too, you know), and finally walked into the audition room. I threw my heels on and without so much as a stretch, started doing whatever the choreography demanded of me.
Somewhere between my train getting delayed, getting sick in the bathroom, and getting my period, I decided to let myself off the hook in terms of HAVING TO GET THIS JOB. I decided I have no control over most things–and what I do have control over, well, I can only do my best.

They made a cut and told me to please come back and sing when they call my name.
So I went back to the bathroom and composed myself.

Which is when I saw it.

The thing about getting your period is that you use certain tools to keep yourself clean.

The thing about being a dancer is that you sometimes wear a leotard and just fishnet tights to auditions.

The thing about those certain tools is that they tend to have strings.

The thing about fishnets is that they tend to have holes.

I noticed with horror that a string was actually threaded through my fishnet tights and sticking out the other side in a most unseemly and untoward manner.
In short: I was mortified.

While hiding the embarrassing evidence of my femininity, I couldn’t help but laugh over the whole situation. Late. Sick. Unexpected time of the month. And then my tampon string literally threaded through my fishnet tights and out the other side–all this while I am doing high kicks just a few feet in front of the whole production team.

let_it_go_by_impala99-d740xws.pngI tuck the string away and walk back into the room. I sing. Then I read a monologue. I realize that I don’t have a say over whether or not I get the job, but, man, at least I am very alive and at least I am doing my best and life is more fun when the pressure is off, anyway. Plus, there is a part of me that is standing back, analyzing the situation, and realizing that this will make a good story.

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I finally finish and start the journey back home. Which is when I get a call from the casting company.
“You got the job!” they say, “You’re our Kristine in A Chorus Line–either here in New York, or the 1st National–whichever opens up first. But the production team wants you.”
I thank them. I can’t help but smile, laugh, and cry a little. The role of Kristine is a somewhat neurotic and quirky role; if they saw the tampon string, it only helped my case.

But the point is, there is a freedom that comes with realizing that none of us are in total control. That we all just do our best in the moment. We take whatever we can grab within our very finite reach and we make something. Dear God, we hope that something is good. We really hope that something makes money. But it’s what we do, over and over again, and the more we do it, the more we realize it is imperfect, hardly ever according to plan, and sometimes even better than we could have imagined.

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But no, it never really involves us being in control of the situation.
And maybe that’s when the truth comes out; which, as someone told me, is way more interesting than a carefully composed lie, anyway.

img-26Jessica Latshaw is a monthly blog contributor to The Broadway Warm-Up blog. For more information on Jessica go to: www.jessicalatshawofficial.com

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The Broadway Warm-Up: A Completely Synchronized Vocal and Dance Warm-Up that can be completed in under 30 minutes Now available on DVD!

Why The Caged Bird SHOULD Sing

BWALPHA copyOk folks, it is with absolute joy and pleasure that we introduce our next guest blogger, the super cool, multitalented, glorious, ultra-creative…

(and incidentally a Broadway Warm-Up Cast Member)…

 

                                                       Jessica Latshaw!img-26

You can go to Jessica’s website www.jessicalatshawofficial.com to find out about all of the awesome things she does as a musician,writer,actor and dancer. But now, check out the first installment of her monthly blog:

Why the Caged Bird SHOULD Sing

508c4a1e-fa59-49f8-9ed0-c41c69c93285I have a friend who cut herself. She told me about it one night in the same tone of voice my ex used when he finally admitted he loved someone else: helpless to change. I listened to her tell me the story about how the pain she felt inside–something that threatened to swallow her whole–became manageable when tangible. She’d watch spots of bright red blood prove Newton’s law of gravity as it trickled down her legs, finding the fact that she was actually controlling the pain (this time) comforting.

And different.

And sometimes when you’re hurting a lot, different is the only thing you’re going for.

images-1That night, in a hotel room that blended in with all the rest during a non-equity bus and truck tour, I listened to my friend and tried to understand. I didn’t yet know of a pain that could feel like that. I didn’t yet know that something could hurt inside so strongly that you’d want to change everything, including yourself. Whether it was for the better or the worse didn’t matter, if you could just change the pain, then there was some relief.

Fast forward to me coming home from a dream job: the 1st National Tour of A Chorus Line.

(that's me all the way on the right)

(that’s me all the way on the right)

To him telling me that he loved her; that he’d never loved me at all. To me losing myself to a story that went wildly off track. To me moving back home to rural Pennsylvania when I was supposed to be in New York City, auditioning and landing jobs with the rest of my friends. To my parents constantly reminding me to eat and doing it only because I’ve always been a good daughter; I’ve always done what I was told.

It was a hard time, guys, but that’s not all it was: it was also a beautiful time.

It is the first time I learned about art as a way of survival. It is the first time I realized that I could be a shape-shifter, changing the shape of my pain into something I liked a lot better via stories, songs, dance, essays, sketches–anything that became tangible and then, yes, manageable. It is when I finally stopped looking around for inspiration (it was hard to find in those days, anyway) and started to look within.

I grew up with brothers who played video games. I mostly ignored them (the games, not the brothers), but I did enjoy Sonic the Hedgehog. When Sonic swam under water, he held his breath, living from air bubble to air bubble. Sometimes Sonic needed to find another air bubble in a matter of seconds in order to survive, and when this happened, the score turned minor and dramatic, driving home the point that you are either gonna find your air bubble or die trying.

AirbubbleThere were nights when I hurt so much inside, that, emotionally, at least, my own score turned minor and dramatic. My own air bubble was writing music, prose, dancing, playing the piano, or just singing whatever came to mind in the moment. My pain changed in those moments; it wasn’t simply different, it was beautiful. It was positive. It was better than I’d been before. It was like removing a bandaid from some terrible wound, only to find not only the absence of a scar, but skin that is softer, younger, more even, more vibrant than you’d ever thought possible.

A few years later, my friend told me she’s doing better, that she hasn’t cut herself in a long time. I’m glad. Adding pain to pain is never the enduring solution. But adding a voice to your pain is. It is, I believe, the artist’s responsibility to voice how you feel– through whatever medium it is you choose. We do this again and again and again. We do it until the voice grows silent, and we have nothing left to say. Which is probably a Sunday night and by Tuesday we wake up no longer empty; it is the great mystery and miracle of pouring oneself out until there is no longer one more word to write, no longer one more note to sing. It seems we cannot out give the gift that was given to us; by sharing it, we only emphasize its hold on us. We are the opposite of peddlers selling snake oil; we give away for a dollar amount what cannot be bought or sold–we give away pieces of ourselves that are gained in tears and days and moments of connectedness and visceral feeling that are as valuable as they are ephemeral.

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This is what I have learned in my pain. And I am not special–no more so than any one of us, I mean. We all live through seasons; we all experience the same range of emotions. We are all called to observe life. To feel it deeply. And then to give it a voice.

Jessica Latshaw is a monthly contributor to:

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The Broadway Warm-Up: A Completely Synchronized Vocal and Dance Warm-Up that can be completed in under 30 minutes. Be Warm!

www.broadwaywarmup.com

The Organic Connection Of Emotion To Breath When Singing

 

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“If you are connected to a feeling your diaphragm WILL respond!”

I was doing a 29 hour reading of a new musical recently and these words came out of the director’s mouth. It instantly struck me that this is an idea that I teach in my studio repeatedly and it was worth exploring further .

I think what struck me about this director’s words was that singing is a truly organic experience connected to an emotion and more specifically connected to the body, mind and spirit’s need to communicate that emotion. We can spend countless hours in the studio hammering out vocal technique (which is of course a crucial basic element), but when push comes to shove, if we are not fully invested emotionally and spiritually, that magic “X” factor will inevitably be missing.

I just took a break from writing this to teach a lesson. As I was working with the student (who is someone new to the studio) on her song, instead of working on her breath support, vowel structure or resonance, I simply asked her to speak the lyric and connect to what she was saying. I then asked her to sing the segment we were working again. The result was immediate and dramatic. Instantly, she was connected to her breath , she was articulating and the sound was ringing like a bell!

In her book The Right To Speak, Patsy Rodenburg talks in depth about the connection of emotion to the release of sound and breath support.  She states, “Once we feel supported and ready to speak we connect to real vocal power. Any previous temptation to push, bluff, embellish, or even retreat from words is lessened. These are, after all, only manipulative habits we use to compensate for our fear of trusting our innate means of support. The whole scope of the voice opens and widens.”

She goes on to say,” Sometimes when we come face to face with a heightened choice-a moment of grief, pain or joy- we can experience support as never before. The habits of the body and the voice are overridden and suddenly we go on automatic pilot, almost as if the moment can only be purged through sound. We laugh till our sides ache, someone new to support work will feel their ribcage beginning to work.”

This same idea is true when we are singing .  We can train our voices and work on our breathing, but it’s the intention to communicate a feeling that will really allow the breath to respond and the voice to soar. So often the performer gets caught up in “How do I sound?” “Here comes the high note” or “I wonder what they’re thinking of me right now”. I can guarantee that performer, audience and everyone involved will feel a greater sense of fulfillment from a performance the moment the singer lets go of all of those questions and commits completely to what is happening in the song. That means what the lyrics are saying, what is happening on the page in the music, what the accompanist is giving you in the moment, and the energy in the room.

When working on repertoire, I’m insistent that my student bring their acting choices into every lesson from the start. What you are thinking and feeling as an actor will dramatically affect how you are approaching the piece. Chances are, you’ve done your work and trained. You’ve warmed up your instrument and are ready to go.  Now that you are working on a piece of material, it’s time to trust that work and know that “If you are connected to a feeling, your diaphragm WILL respond!”

Be Warm,

Kim Stern

Co-Creator : The Broadway Warm-Up

A Completely Synchronized Vocal and Dance Warm-Up That Can Be Completed in under 30-minutes! 

The TOP 10 ROADBLOCKS MUSICAL THEATRE PERFORMERS FACE (PART 1)

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Happy New Year Folks!  As we see the horizon of a New Year many of us have our sights on exciting new goals.  We’ve made resolutions that we’ve been able to stick to thus far and we have high hopes for the promise of the coming year. Unfortunately, as we continue along our path we may find that some of these resolutions are a little harder to keep than we thought or we may get frustrated at not hitting the mark for all of our goals right away.  The following is intended to help you work through the rough points, stick to your resolutions and reach your goals.

Recently, Deidre Goodwin and I did an interview for Theatre Cast: a  webcast where theatre teachers and professionals share a passion for theatre trends and share practical advice and tips. We talked about our work in developing The Broadway Warm-Up and shared stories of our experiences as  performers and teachers  At some point in the conversation, I mentioned  that I could name about 10 obstacles or road blocks that I have seen my students come up against consistently-regardless of how far they are along on their career path.  At this point, a listener of the program wrote in and asked me to go further on that topic.  I took some time to look at this and came up with the top 10 roadblocks that I see students consistently face. I realized each “roadblock” is surmountable the moment we are able to acknowledge it in a supportive way and find a way to address it.

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TOP 10 ROAD BLOCKS MUSICAL THEATRE PERFORMERS CONSISTENTLY FACE IN REACHING THEIR GOALS ( PART 1)

 10. SEARCHING FOR APPROVAL FROM SOURCES OUTSIDE OF YOURSELF BEFORE GAINING YOUR OWN APPROVAL

Many times I will have students coming to me hoping for me to tell them if I think they have what it takes to reach their goals. I found that the only real answer is to suggest that they take a look at themselves and ask that very same question. So many times we are tempted to search for approval in auditions, rehearsals, performances or in our day to day life. If we can begin to grow that sense of approval and worth within ourselves we’ll find ourselves continually nurtured. Confidence will soar and our performance will flourish as a result. Value the input of your mentors and teachers but trust that you and you alone can determine your worth.

9. DIFFICULTY EMBRACING THE BRILLIANCE OF THE PERSON YOU ARE AND WHAT YOU HAVE TO OFFER IN A UNIQUE WAY- TRYING TO REPLICATE WHAT OTHERS HAVE ALREADY PUT OUT THERE

To me, part of the wonder and brilliance of life is it’s absolute uniqueness. Each one of us has our very unique qualities and our very unique ways of expressing ourselves to the world. So often, I will find students trying to replicate a performance they’ve seen  on YouTube or heard on ITunes and most of the time it’s obvious right from the start. They may not even realize they are doing it, but they’ve gotten it into their heads that there is one way to put a particular piece across and they aim to replicate it. The result is generally fine—but less than inspiring. When I discover this happening, I will try to find a way for the student to break the mold completely and find their true voice in the song- both on a technical level and as an actor. Invariably, the performance will flourish and the actor and audience will feel more satisfied when this kind of work comes into play. Bring your own unique voice to the table – it’s the one thing you have to offer that no one can take away from you!

8. FEAR OF TAKING A RISK

“If you do what you always do, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten”- Tony Robbins

By definition a risk is a situation involving exposure to danger. It seems quite natural that most of us instinctually avoid risk at all costs. However, as musical theatre performers, we’ve already committed to the idea of taking a risk at some level. When we walk on to a stage or enter a room for an audition we’ve taken a leap into the world of of being vulnerable and free ourselves up to act and react authentically and in the moment. Let’s commit to that idea in a full way.  To be clear, Risk taking is not throwing caution to the wind and going in to an audition unrehearsed expecting brilliance.  It’s challenging yourself to be fully present in the moment , trying a new piece of material or making a bold choice. When you take a smart risk as a performer you will inevitably leave the performance feeling fulfilled, rewarded and exhilarated and 9 times out of 10 your audience will walk away with the same feeling.

7. BECOMING HYPER FOCUSED ON ONE AREA OF WORK THAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT WITHOUT ACKNOWLEDGING AREAS OF GROWTH AND STRENGTH ALONG THE WAY

I’ve seen it over and over.  A student will get super focused on belting a certain note in a song or become so hyper aware of a section of their instrument that needs some developing that they will completely lose track of the growth that they are making as an overall performer.  Then they will start to become frustrated, lose interest, lose motivation and lose focus. When we  focus on one specific area and lose track of our creative instrument as a whole, the work starts to become less satisfying and more and more of a chore.  I think it’s always important to have a realistic view of the goals we wish to reach and check in with those goals on a regular basis.  At the same time,  try to remember that you are developing your whole self on several different levels and you want to continue to acknowledge your growth and strengths along with your opportunities for improvement. The results can be surprising.  I’ve seen students step away from working on an area that’s been challenging for them and begin to really focus on building their instrument as a whole.  Then, a few months later they will come back to a piece of music that seemed impossible for them earlier and it will be a piece of cake.

6. DIFFICULTY COMMITTING TO REGULAR PRACTICE

We’ve all heard the old joke: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?…”  Well,  there’s no way around it, practice is key element for anyone looking to master their craft.  Most of us have great intentions but  when it comes down to it may find it difficult to commit to a regular cycle of practice.

I find there are several elements that may get in the way of a steady practice cycle. The first is committing to too much too soon.  If you haven’t been in a regular practice cycle it is going to be quite a shock to your system to suddenly commit to practicing 1 or more  hours a day working on vocal exercises running through repertoire and cooling down. Try starting small. Commit to 10 minutes 3-4 times a week. Half the battle is actually beginning to practice. Chances are, once you start, you won’t want to stop and may end up doing more practice time than you committed to. If you do more, that’s great, but consider your practice fulfilled once you’ve done your 10 minutes. Do that for a month and then expand your commitment to 20 minutes 5 times a week… you get the idea.  Before you know it you will have eased yourself into a regular practice pattern.

The second element that may interfere with regular practice : LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION! Many of us live in urban areas and don not want to disturb our neighbors or live with roommates. We may want to practice but find it difficult to find a proper time and place to really let our voices out. For my students living in urban areas, I suggest a few solutions: If you are living with roommates, it might help to come up with some sort of a schedule. Most likely your roommate would not mind having an hour or so per week of private time in the apartment even if they are not a performer.  Make an  agreement that both of you will plan to be out of the apartment for one hour per week at a specific time ( they would be using the apartment when you are out  and vice versa) .  You can then plan for that to be your rehearsal time. As for the neighbors, I recommend being as upfront as possible.  Try knocking on the door or leaving a note and letting them know you are a performer and will be rehearsing from time to time . If at any point the noise is a problem invite them to please let you know.

A third element that generally gets in the way of regular practice is not knowing what to do or a general lack of focus. I recommend to my students to work with the vocal exercises that we have recorded on a given week along with the recording.  I suggest for them to to do the exercises along with the recording and listen to the things we talk about in the lesson as sometimes you may hear an idea in a different way upon repetition. This element of not knowing what to do is actually one of the inspirations for The Broadway Warm-Up.  I had so many students asking me for some sort of a set and efficient warm-up that could get them ready for a show or audition and found myself making repeated recordings for people. I finally decided to come up with a better solution.

In terms of working  repertoire, it’s always tempting to strictly work on new material and let some of your older material suffer. Try to get in the habit of running through at least one or two of your old stand by’s a week and see what fresh insight you can bring to them.

Try to look at your practice time as a regular gift you can give to yourself . It’s time that you are taking away from any of the day to day drudgery to be creative and nurture your artistic self.

COMING SOON: TOP 10 ROAD BLOCKS MUSICAL THEATRE PERFORMERS CONSISTENTLY FACE IN REACHING THEIR GOALS ( PART 2)

Anyone Can Whistle… but can anyone SING?

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“So, can you teach anybody to sing? Or is singing a natural gift that someone needs to be born with?”

If I had a penny for every time someone asked me that question… well let’s just say I’d have more than a few dollars. The first time I was asked, I proudly answered, “I can teach anybody to sing!” and at the time I believed that answer 100%. As the years have gone by and I have become a little more experienced, my answer has refined itself into something that I feel I can stand behind with a little more grounding, “I can teach anybody to sing BETTER.”

Usually, when someone asks me that question, they are really asking, “Can you teach ME to sing?” Having never worked with them before, it’s a tricky question to answer in the moment as there are many factors that go into working with a vocalist. However, I find that most people begin to understand what their potential might be when I relate it to the idea of an Olympic Runner.

Most of us are born with some basic ability to run. There are certain people who are naturally born to be Olympic runners. Their bodies are just made for it. From the day they were born they had the strength, stamina, speed and agility to be one of the fastest runners in the world. They have long powerful legs, their movements are efficient, they’re naturally aerobically fit. Some of those people discover their talent, hone their gifts and go on to win Gold Medals.

There are others whose bodies might not have the same natural gifts but with proper training, persistent hard work and dedicated practice will go on to win races and achieve those very same Gold Medals. These are the people who are committed to training their instrument to be the absolute best it can be. They will quite literally go the extra mile in order to reach their goal. These people take the raw materials they have been given and maximize their potential. They may not have been born with a gift for running, but through passion, persistence and training have overcome obstacles to achieve their goal.

Then, there are runners that fall into every category in between. There’s the naturally gifted runner who doesn’t have the desire to train every day. There’s the runner who is not so gifted and strives for the gold , but lacks the focus to train consistently. There’s someone like myself who loves a good walk or spin on the elliptical , but really will only be inspired to actually run if there’s someone chasing me… you get the idea.

In training a singer , we are dealing with an instrument of the body. We must develop strength , flexibility and agility similar to the way an Olympic runner would in preparing for any race. The primary difference is that the majority of the muscles that we are dealing with in singing are internal and not visible– so they are a little more challenging to access. We also must take into account the mind and spirit of the performer. How quickly a vocalist progresses can vary greatly depending on their motivation, their intelligence, their creativity, their confidence and their passion- to name a few.

A voice teacher can help to train the muscles and develop coordination. We can teach proper vowel structure and breathing. We can help the student develop their ear and match pitch. We can expose them to great music and vocalists and inspire their spirit and creativity. At the same time, we must recognize that we are working as a teammate with the student and there are several variable factors at play. Some of those factors include the student’s willingness or ability to practice on a regular basis, the way and speed in which their mind receives information, the connection between teacher and student -how well they communicate and how comfortable they are with one another, the student’s willingness to try new ideas and stray from their comfort zone. There is also that fantastic moment when after months of exploring an idea, for one reason or another, the clouds part and something just clicks.

One of my favorite moments as a teacher is finding my way into a students way of thinking and into their hearts and helping them to unlock the voice that has been waiting there for them all along. I’ve seen gifted singers who had lost their inspiration regain their spark and create magic. I’ve seen people go from not being able to match pitch, to singing songs full out and booking jobs in the ensemble of Broadway shows. I’ve seen people who thought that maybe, they just might have a voice, come in for a first voice lesson and discover that not only did they have a voice , it was something to be reckoned with and something to be shared.

When someone asks me, “Can you teach anyone to sing?”, I can confidently say, “I can teach anyone to sing BETTER.” Where we go from there , well that’s the fun part: discovering how far you can go if you put your mind to it. : )

If there are any topics you’d like me to address or questions you’d like me to answer, give a shout out by contacting Kim@broadwaywarmup.com

Be Warm,  Kim